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Talking to the Opposition

Guest Author - Barbara Sharpe

In a recent issue of Newsweek, Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote a viewpoint piece called ďLess Shouting, More Talking.Ē

Dr. Mouw says that he would like to see us have a conversation. I would love to have a conversation with Dr. Mouw but I have no idea where to begin. He and I have divergent views on many things. Iím a Christian, too, but I am not an evangelical Christian. I do not believe many things that he holds dear. I also respect his right to hold whatever opinion he has and I would defend to the death his right to express it. Itís not easy but, if I believe our right to free speech, then that right has to extend to people who are saying things with which I disagree.

On a personal level, I believe that the best way to have those conversations is to find common ground. For example, both Dr. Mouw and I have dedicated our careers to service. Both of us have strong faith, though expressed differently. Dr. Mouw and I have a passion for social justice. We have both lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I wonder if heís a fan of Yesterdog as well?

That could begin the conversation: Whatís your favorite yesterdog, Dr. Mouw? We can talk about the things we have in common. We can talk about how we came to hold those beliefs and we can share the experiences that shaped our faith and our worldviews. We might even learn something from one another.

Chances are great that we will not change each otherís positions. At least not entirely. What we can expect is that we will understand each other a little better, that we will have stronger relationships. We may learn new things that alter our perceptions. I have been the cause of more than one person deciding that being gay wasnít actually on par with being a pedophile or a murderer. Not because I told them so but because I showed them so. I am exactly who they do not expect: I am a woman with a strongly held faith, with well-thought-out opinions who also gives them the respect of allowing them their own opinions and feelings. They donít all agree with me that marriage equality is important, that religious views have no place in our government or that abortion should be legal. In fact, many of them donít. Itís okay. I donít agree with them, either.

It is just one of those people, by the way, who brought me back to faith. I left the church when I came out. I was told by countless people that unless I ďrenounced the sin of homosexualityĒ I was damned. I did some research and what I found astonished me. The Bible is inconsistent and Christians are selective in what we interpret literally. I got angry, and being 20, I decided that the whole thing was nonsense. I ignored what I knew and what I felt and I ignored God. Then I met a woman who showed me that not all Christians are like that, that not all of us are hypocrites and bigots. She showed me that she and I could disagree wildly and still respect one anotherís beliefs. I started to let myself believe. Here I am, many years later, an active, practicing Christian.

We do have something we can learn from one another. For me, what makes it difficult is that most of the Christians I meet are not interested in dialog. They are interested in being right. Iím fairly certain that can be said for the rest of us, too. I suspect whatís needed is for us to stop trying to be understood and to try to understand. To let go of the need to be ďrightĒ and to focus on being righteous. Make no mistake, I do not mean self-righteous. No, I mean the definition as in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: acting or being in accordance with what is just, honorable and free from guilt or wrong. It is never righteous to treat someone with disrespect, to demonize someone you donít know. Whether you share my Christian faith or not, surely you can agree that it is a good idea to behave in accordance with what is just and honorable.

Perhaps thatís where we begin. We begin by behaving righteously. We know where behaving self-righteously has gotten us. Itís time to find a new path.
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